Energy Poverty: The African Effect

Energy Poverty: The African Effect

Energy Consumption around the world (Src: GettyImages)

Lack of access to clean and affordable energy is one of the many challenges that hinder economic development for most developing countries and her people.
There are more than 1.4 billion people without access to electricity in the world. The fact that you can read this, means you are most likely not among that number.

This lack stifles development in any sector of life that is dependent on energy. Think improved learning through modern classrooms or  advanced healthcare services using state of the art machines, etc.

What is Energy Poverty?

The International Energy Agency describes Energy poverty as a lack of access to modern energy services. These services are defined as household access to electricity and clean cooking facilities (e.g. fuels and stoves that do not cause air pollution in houses).

Impact on Africa

According to the Energy Poverty Action Initiative of the World Economic Forum, “Access to energy is fundamental to improving quality of life and is a key imperative for economic development.”

In Africa, especially the sub-Saharan region, quite a number of urban dwellers rarely access sustained electricity; majority of rural dwellers don’t have access to electricity in months.

Beyond access, affordability of clean energy is also a major concern as household income is low and families can barely pay for education and feeding. So, they rather gather firewood for their meal preparation instead of paying for cooking gas.

A report by energypedia stated that close to 600 million people
in sub-Saharan Africa – about two-thirds of the population – live WITHOUT access to electricity.  Let that sink in.
The majority – approximately 80% – live in rural areas where there is no grid-electricity and expansion is largely financially and logistically infeasible.

Obviously, this lack thereof impacts the day-to-day quality of life and health of our people.

The truth is, success has a pattern and that pattern exists even in the energy development numbers.
Consider this, the electrification rate in both urban and rural regions of developed nations and fast developing countries especially the BRICS nations (Brazil,Russia,India,China,South Africa)  are almost at par; as opposed to the case of most sub-Saharan nations like Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya etc. See World Energy Outlook report for 2016.

This goes to show that some nations recognize energy development as an integral part of the economic development of that nation and her people.

Lightbulb innovation for household use (Src: Google Images)
Lightbulb innovation for household use (Src: Google Images)

Energy and Education

Many basic human needs are dependent on energy. Education is one of them. A UNESCO report of 2013 captured that there are almost 30 million children attending schools that are not electrified in DR Congo. A country with the population of 75.5 million people.

Unfortunately, this is the case in several other African nations especially sub-Saharan region where poverty level is put at 5% and infrastructural development is nothing to write about.

This means that the children and young people in that region miss out on the unique head-start technology brings to education.

Studies have also shown a correlation between access to energy and academic success.

In 2011, it was reported that a school in the south-east of Sudan whose students averaged a pass rate of less than 50 percent were catapulted to 100 percent after the introduction of solar-powered generators.

Lack of energy access also means that ICT use is not enabled in the education of most students in this modern day. This report captures a further study on energy impact on Education.

Energy and Health

Healthcare services are provided using candles or flashlight from mobile phones in many rural communities.

Many life-saving vaccines require stable temperature for them to sustain their potency. Due to this lack thereof, child mortality in WHO African region(81 per 1000 live births) is about 7 times higher than that in the WHO European Region (11 per 1000 live births). Maternal mortality is also unacceptably high in sub-Saharan Africa.

Wind Turbines in the sunset (Src: Google Images)
Wind Turbines in the sunset (Src: Google Images)

Looking into the future

Fortunately, there has been good news around energy innovation across the world.

In China, there is the biogas digester which converts pig excrement into methane gas. The digester traps the gas and converts it into energy for cooking and light while reducing pollution.

There is the Lighting Africa program. A joint World Bank Group program, which aims to expand access to clean, affordable, quality-verified off-grid lighting to 250 million people currently living without electricity in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 and many more innovations.

I believe finding ourselves where we are gives us a unique opportunity to consider solutions in more original and creative ways.

In developing new human settlements around our community, our energy needs can be supplemented by kids solar-powered playgrounds or energy-from-waste.

Or are there ways to harness wind energy with a more affordable cost than it is currently with wind turbines? Or can we develop cheaper solar panels for homes and schools in our community?

Ask yourself, What am I going to do to solve the energy problems of my community? Because, ultimately, we as Africans will have to solve our problems.

Can you think of alternative energy options with very low cost that can benefit your community?

Please share with us your thoughts on this.